by Jess Grady-Benson, (Pitzer 2014)

It all started with three of us, Meagan Tokunaga (Pomona ’15), Kai Orans (Pomona ’14), and myself.  In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it was time for urgent action against climate change.  Though the Claremont Colleges (5C’s) tout superior campus sustainability and a strong Environmental Analysis program, the 5C’s remain invested in the fossil fuel industry, thus implicitly endorsing climate change, the greatest social justice issue of our generation.  It was time to take a stand for our future and divest our colleges of the fossil fuel industry.

On November 11th, 75 Claremont Colleges students marched on the UCLA campus chanting, “from East to West, we must DIVEST!”  Inspired by the words of Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Van Jones, Desmond Tutu, and other speakers of the Do The Math Tour, we returned to Claremont ready to kick off our campaign.

Candlelight March – Dec. 3, 2012

Back on campus we ignited our campaign with a candlelight march to deliver official “Requests to Divest” to all five presidents of the 5 Colleges.  We were gaining power quickly through student and faculty support. Soon we had built a five-college team of about 60 students.

The second semester began with a meeting with Pitzer President Skandera Trombley and Treasurer Lee, during which President Trombley stated, “I think your campaign is a worthy one; I think that you have very admirable principles. You are doing what I think is consistent with the values of Pitzer College.”

Victory One:We were granted the opportunity to present to the Trustee Investment Committee two weeks later and asked to submit an official report on the financial impacts of divestment at Pitzer in three days. Despite this challenge, we successfully published our first report for Pitzer, held a panel where I spoke against the 5C’s most vocal divestment opponents, and presented before Pitzer’s Trustee Investment Committee.  On top of all of that, we passed a resolution in favor of divestment through Pitzer Student Senate!

Solidarity gathering during Trustee Investment Committee meeting

On April 23rd we submitted a second report to the Trustee Investment Committee outlining our moral obligation to act for the sake of social and intergenerational justice. We have requested that the Committee vote on divestment at their next meeting on May 17th.  If the Committee votes yes, the topic will go before the entire Board of Trustees next semester.

 Our team has also made tremendous progress at Pomona.  We’ve made two presentations to the Committee on Social Responsibility, an advisory committee to the board of trustees, and a presentation to Presidents Advisory Committee on Sustainability.  Despite a complicated investment portfolio and a few actively opposing faculty members, on April 9th, we passed a referendum with 78% of voters in favor of divestment and 93% voted in favor of creating a Green Revolving Fund.  In response to this powerful display of student support at Pomona, both the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability and the Committee on Social Responsibility voted to divest the College’s fossil fuel holdings of its separately managed funds within five years. The CSR’s statement declared:

“The Committee considers climate change to be a crucial issue of grave and urgent moral import and recognizes that divestment in fossil fuel companies is a means to express our concern about the negative implications of climate change both for our planet and for this college. The Committee unanimously endorses the idea that divestment is consistent with the values of the Pomona College community, and that divestment is worth exploring as both a possible expression of those values and as a means to support and help energize the political will to address climate change issues.”

 The Committee has requested that the College’s financial advisers prepare a report on the impact of divestment on returns to the endowment. In addition, the Committee has requested a full analysis of the possibilities for reducing the College’s investment exposure to fossil fuel companies in its commingled funds. The Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees will explore the possibility of divestment over the summer and present its decision in the fall.

March 4th Rally at the 5C’s

Though Pitzer and Pomona have led the progress of the 5C Divestment Campaign, Scripps and Claremont McKenna (CMC) are beginning conversations as well.  Scripps held a divestment panel in April, where Lizzie Medford (Scripps ’16) fearlessly championed the moral imperatives of divestment.  Liza Farr and Melanie Paty (CMC ’15) began meetings with CMC administrators and fought against stubborn climate change skepticism.  We are hopeful for future progress at all five colleges.

As the year comes to a close and we say goodbye to seniors and those who will be abroad, we take a moment to step back and reflect on the friends and allies we have made, the movement that we are building, and the battles that we will keep fighting.  As we sang, 250 strong, at the Swarthmore PowerUp! Convergence, “we’re gonna divest, you’ll get no rest, we’ll all stand strong, we don’t have long.” We will keep sowing the seeds of resistance until we DIVEST THE WEST!

The Claremont Colleges march at “Do the Math” at UCLA